Nurse Pat is a Deputy Director of Nursing Service who now works at the Day Care Unit at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) in Accra. With over 30 years of nursing experience, Pat’s knowledge is invaluable to the team at KBTH.
Despite being incredibly busy, Pat walks the ward with a smile on her face each day. It is clear that the children are very fond of her, with five-year-old Sono joining us as we sit down to find out more about her role;
“With the shortage of nurses, Prof Renner asked some of us retired nurses to come in and help support the team on the ward which is why you see me here today.
“Cancer is a heavy load for anyone but even more so for families in Ghana. Here, families struggle to find the funds to pay for three meals a day yet alone the cost of cancer. Because of this, it is important for us as nurses to go above our duty of care to not only support the child, but also the families, with the mental stresses of having a child with cancer.
“They need to be encouraged and have the support to make sure they continue with treatment even when their child begins to get better or when things become extremely challenging in terms of finances and being away from home.
“There are many families that will start treatment but not finish meaning all previous support would have been in vain if they do not return. As much as it is important to ensure children are diagnosed early, it is equally important to make sure these families complete their treatment cycles.
“To reduce abandonment rates, we have started to provide counselling to empower families with the knowledge of not only the process of the treatment but to also inform them of what to expect in terms of its intensity of time, money and everything involved”
When asked about why Professor Renner had asked the retired nurses to return, Nurse Pat informed us that they felt their experience and knowledge could be passed onto the parents to ensure they are comforted and informed about what to expect.
“It’s not easy for a parent to accept that their child has cancer, that they may have to have their eye amputated for example, so they are often frightened and this can lead to them leaving the hospital. With a better understanding of why we need to apply these treatments, more families will feel confident in completing cycles and increase their child’s chances of survival.”
The team’s work goes beyond what they do on the ward as they also complete outreach visits to reach children that have been discharged but are still receiving palliative care;
“When children reach a stage of palliative care, the most important aspect of our work is to make sure they are as comfortable as possible as they reach the end of their life. We send them home to give them a sense of comfort, but they are encouraged to continue to be well nourished and receive the correct treatment to reduce their pain. Our visits ensure children are being correctly cared for and enjoy their life despite it coming to an end.”
“During one of our visits we met Serwa who was just two and a half years old. The child had been discharged from hospital as she was now receiving palliative care from home and we went to check up on her condition.
“Serwa was in a terrible way, her entire body was extremely pale as her mother sat by her side whilst her husband went to work. We told the mother that her child could die tonight, and she responded by saying they had no money to pay for her treatment anymore. After telling the parents how serious Serwa’s condition was, they agreed to allow us to take their daughter back to hospital.”
“To do what we do often takes more than knowledge. It takes heart and patience. We need to be able to talk to parents as a mother or a father and not only as a nurse. By showing compassion, we can speak to them with an understanding that comforts them. “
“Sometimes we can cover the costs of essential treatments so we ask parents to bring their child back for further care but they still cannot arrive because they cannot afford the transport fees. Many travel for several hours to reach hospital and costs to reach hospital are one of the many hurdles they must overcome.”
Throughout our time with Nurse Pat, she continued to smile and emit an aura of determination. Despite being technically retired, Nurse Pat goes above and beyond in her role every day. Being a nurse is not just a job, it’s a life choice to help others and all the nurses at KBTH play an integral role in helping to save the lives of children with cancer in Ghana.